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December 4, 2017

Although International Rabbit Day, September 23, has come and gone this year, it’s never too late to celebrate cottontail cuteness and floppy-eared fun by highlighting hares in your store and living large with lagomorphs. Because, truth is, bunnies big and small continue to attract a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” from curious customers.

In fact, rabbits remain the most popular type of small animal pet, with 43 percent of small animal owners possessing one—the highest level tallied in a decade—per the 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.

Scott Stoneking, manager at Clark’s Pet Emporium in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can vouch for the timeless appeal of rabbits. They continue to be the top-selling small animal in his store, often selling the same day he first puts one on display.

“They’re so cute, they tend to sell themselves, especially the ones with floppy ears,” said Stoneking, who prices his rabbits between $39.99 and $59.99. He showcases his rabbits for sale within a large open-top petting habitat, surrounded by clear Plexiglas, that’s strategically placed in the center of the store for high visibility. “People walk up to the habitat and can’t help but interact with the animals.”

What to Consider

Stoneking says rabbits are ideal small animal pets thanks to their soft fur, docile nature and larger size that many owners prefer to hamsters, mice and guinea pigs.

“Millennials are now the primary demographic for rabbits. A lot of them may have had hamsters or smaller pets as a younger child and are now ready to care for a larger pet but live in an apartment or are not ready for the responsibility of a dog or cat,” said Leslie Ellis, consumer communication manager for Ferndale, Washington-based Healthy Pet, makers of carefresh paper bedding for rabbits.

However, you have to be careful where you source rabbits and how and when you promote them. Stoneking’s store partners with local reputable breeders as well as a nearby animal welfare league.

“You don’t want to encourage people to just get rabbits as a novelty. Retailers have to be responsible about selling these pets,” said Stoneking, who recommends not selling rabbits around Eastertime. “You also have to caution parents that some rabbits have an issue with biting and sometimes they don’t particularly enjoy being picked up,” he added. “The good news is that rabbits are a lot more gentle and approachable if they have been raised and socialized by people from a young age.”

What’s Up, Doc?

The newest rabbit-minded merchandise that may be generating the most buzz is Ware Manufacturing’s Critter Crackers, made from Timothy hay and available in two themes: safari or ocean.

“We took a popular food source for rabbits—hay—and turned it into animal-shaped chew treats,” said Michelle Diaz, project manager for Ware Manufacturing, which was founded in 1993 and is based in Phoenix.

Another new product garnering increased attention is Catty Stacks, eco-friendly modular hideouts designed for rabbits or cats and made from ultra-strong, double-walled corrugated paper, with components that can be attached for a custom design.

Edibles of note in this space include new Sunburst Break-A-Bale Hays, by Higgins Premium, featuring pre-cut portions of compressed hay that off er a less messy alternative to loose hay. Among the daily diets preferred by many retailers are Sunseed SunBasics Pet Rabbit Food, an alfalfa hay-based pellet diet; Small World Complete Feed for Rabbit, featuring a high-fiber, no-corn formula; and ZuPreem’s Nature’s Promise Timothy Naturals Rabbit Food, made with sun-cured Timothy hay.

In the realm of “rabbitats,” there’s a wider variety of enclosures available today. For example, MidWest Homes for Pets offers a Wabbitat Deluxe Rabbit Home; Caitec is known for its Bunny Wonder Pop Up Animal Home; Prevue Pet Products recently unveiled its Bella Rabbit Cage Kit; and Kaytee now
makes large (30 inches by 18 inches) and extra-large (42 inches by 18 inches) CritterHome habitats, which were first introduced at the 2017 Global Pet Expo.

“Both new CritterHomes feature vibrant, transparent colors, with a deep, rounded base that removes easily for quicker and simpler cleanup,” said Jason Casto, director of Pets International, Kaytee Hard Goods, which is headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, and has been in business for more than 150 years. makes large (30 inches by 18 inches) and extra-large (42 inches by 18 inches) CritterHome habitats, which were first introduced at the 2017 Global Pet “Both new CritterHomes feature vibrant, transparent colors, with a deep, rounded base that removes easily for quicker and simpler cleanup,” said Jason Casto, director of Pets International, Kaytee Hard Goods, which is headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, and has been in business for more than 150 years.

Make the Register Ring

To keep bunny business in the black, get your hired help up to speed.

“Make sure all store associates are well-versed in the features and benefits of all the rabbit products you carry, even new items,” Ellis said. “Be sure to take advantage of social media, as well, and share any content from brands as a way to increase product awareness.”

To compete with online retailers, focus on what you do best: being an invaluable brick-and-mortar neighborhood resource.

“Online shopping will never replace the feeling of walking into a store and hearing a welcoming voice say, ‘Hello, how can we help you today,’ nor will it replace the experience of holding an animal or item in your hand and feeling the weight, materials and quality,” Diaz said. “Store owners need to invest in the store experience. It is the chief advantage they have over online competitors.”

Think about offering deals and discounts whenever possible, as well.

“Shoppers who purchase one of our rabbits with an enclosure get 10 percent off accompanying accessories, toys, bedding and food,” Stoneking noted.

Also, consider providing an open-top temporary pen or full-time habitat in a high-traffic spot within your store, Stoneking recommends.

“It can be a focal point in that area that compels shoppers to touch and pet the rabbits, which can significantly increase sales,” he concluded. “It can also help to socialize the rabbits.”

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